Indians at the 2015 Australian Open: Leander Paes the hero once again
The 2015 Australian Open came to an exciting end a couple of days ago with Novak Djokovic lifting the title for the fifth time in his career. Speaking from an Indian perspective though, the event was a bit of a mixed bag.
The expectations of Indian tennis fans were sky high going into the tournament, particularly in the doubles categories. The likes of Sania Mirza, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna had the hopes of a billion plus people on their shoulders as they looked to clinch various titles at Melbourne Park. Here is a look at how the Indian contingent performed at the year’s first Grand Slam:
Note: You can catch all the best moments from the Australian Open on Sony Liv Sports here.
Yuki Bhambri’s impressive Grand Slam debut
The best news to come out a day before the tournament began was that of Yuki Bhambri making it to the Australian Open main draw. This was the first time that Bhambri had qualified for a Grand Slam.
Bhambri’s fans will probably never forget his historic triumph here in 2009 in the juniors; he was also ranked No. 1 in the juniors at the time. However, things went downhill from there for the Delhi lad as he struggled to make a transition to the highest levels of the sport.
Bhambri was up against No. 6 seed Andy Murray in the opening round. The Indian did not let Murray dictate points from the baseline and stepped up to the net at important moments during the match. But the Brit played aggressive tennis and made very few unforced errors to progress to the second round with a straight sets win.
After the match, Murray said that he was impressed with Bhambri’s play. “He was coming forward a lot. Even when I was hitting good returns, he was changing the direction of the ball very quickly and coming to the net. He played well up at the net. He had good hands, solid volleys and made it tough,” Murray said.
Bhambri can take some positives from the tournament despite losing in the first round. He put up a good show on Margaret Court Arena against one of the best players in the world. The 22-year-old was second best on the day, but he can improve on his Grand Slam results if he makes the right moves in the future.
Sania Mirza disappoints in women’s doubles, but does decently in mixed
There was disappointment in store for the new pairing of India’s Sania Mirza and Chinese Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh, as they lost to the Polish-Canadian duo of Alicja Rosolska and Gabriela Dabrowski in straight sets.
Mirza and American Bethanie Mattek-Sands had won the doubles title in Sydney International just before the Australian Open, raising the expectations of the Indian fans, but there was no glory to be gained for Mirza in Melbourne. Incidentally, Mattek-Sands and her partner Lucie Safarova pocketed the Australian Open title beating Jie Zheng and Yung-Jan Chan.
Meanwhile, Mirza and Bruno Soares were seeded No. 1 in the mixed doubles draw for the tournament. The 2014 US Open champions came through a tight couple of matches in the opening rounds of the tournament, and settled into a nice rhythm in their win against the Aussie pair of Casey Dellacqua and John Peers to reach the semifinals.
But after taking the first set comfortably against the team of Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor in the last four stage, the No. 1 seeds lost the second set with two breaks of serve. Mirza and Soares came up short in a tight tie-break to crash out of the tournament.
Rohan Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi fail to impress
Mladenovic and Nestor took care of the pairing of Rohan Bopanna and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the mixed doubles first round. Bopanna also featured in the men’s doubles with his new partner for this season, Nestor – the Indo-Canadian pair won the Sydney International and looked like going all the way at Melbourne Park. However, their journey was short-lived as Feliciano Lopez and Max Mirnyi beat then in straight sets in the second round.
The tournament marked a comeback for Bhupathi, who was playing after a lengthy injury layoff. Perhaps expectedly, he bowed out in the first round of the doubles event with his partner Jurgen Melzer. In mixed doubles, he partnered with Australian Jarmila Gajdosova, but the results did not change for the 12-time Grand Slam champion as the duo lost in the first round of the competition.
Leander Paes rolls back the years, wins hearts once again
Another Indian legend Leander Paes entered his 25th year on the ATP tour, but he is showing now signs of slowing down. Paes partnered Raven Klaasen in the doubles event, and the duo were on a high after clinching the title in Auckland. The Australian Open is a different cup of tea though, and the Indo-South African pair lost to eventual champions Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli in the second round.
But that failed to dim Paes’ spirit, who kept the Indian flag flying high until the last day of the tournament. Paes partnered with Martina Hingis in the mixed doubles event, and the duo set the courts alight with their deft touch and magical volleys.
Paes even came up with an impossible behind-the-back shot to win a point in the semifinals; it was a shot of such sheer audacity and skill that it got the entire world talking and is likely to be a contender for the ‘Shot of the Year’ honours. Take a look at the magical shot for yourself:
The ‘young’ duo went on to win the title without dropping a single set. It was the 15th Grand Slam title for Paes, while Hingis lifted her 16th Major. Clearly, there is no stopping Paes, the eternal hero of Indian tennis!